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Edwin Poots noncommittal on Altnagelvin cancer unit

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The DUP's Edwin Poots

The DUP's Edwin Poots

The DUP's Edwin Poots

The new Health Minister has refused to give an assurance that he will press ahead with plans to build a radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin.

Edwin Poots met with members of the Pink Ladies, a breast cancer support unit from Londonderry, on the steps of Stormont yesterday and received a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for the facility to be built as soon as possible.

However, while he said he is considering the future of the project, he would not give a firm commitment that he will support efforts to ensure it will open under the original timescale.

The future of the radiotherapy centre became one of the most contentious issues in the recent Assembly elections. The Belfast Telegraph revealed in December that the previous Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, did not believe the funding was available to staff the facility.

But his decision to leave the project off his list of capital priorities for the coming financial period was met with outrage and shock when he made the announcement at Stormont hours before the Assembly dissolved.

He said he needed to find money now to allow him to begin training the staff necessary for the department but because of budget constraints he was unable to do so.

According to Mr McGimpsey, the only way he could afford to staff the facility was by removing money from another area, such as care packages for the elderly. However, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accused Mr McGimpsey of sectarianism and the DUP also attacked Mr McGimpsey, giving a guarantee they would reverse the decision if they took the health portfolio.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said: “As a party we can give a clear commitment that DUP ministers in the next Executive will vote to reverse this decision and proceed.”

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety officials have warned a dramatic overhaul of the NHS, including the number of acute hospitals and A&Es, is required to ensure the future of patient safety in Northern Ireland.

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